Jerusalem – Based on a series of tours through Katamon and Baka, former Palestinian neighbourhoods where Arab identity was swiftly erased after the 1948 Nakba, the project “Jerusalem, We Are Here” is a web-based interactive documentary that takes viewers on a journey in Jerusalem.
The documentary revives the culturally rich landscape of Palestinian West Jerusalem, based around an interactive map embedded with original film footage, photographs, interviews and audio, directed and produced by Dorit Naaman.
“I realised that if we wanted to make it accessible to Palestinians, we needed to do something that is virtual,” Naaman told Al Jazeera. She began sourcing information about Katamon from Palestine and the diaspora by word of mouth more than five years ago. “1948 is almost 70 years ago, and we need to collect the memories and documents from the people who are still around, who remember. There’s a sense of urgency to this.”
Naaman, who is based in Canada, teamed up with Mona Halaby, a Palestinian whose family was expelled from Baka in 1948. Halaby’s extensive knowledge of the neighbourhoods provided the basis for the interactive map. “It was a very vibrant area with a lot of educated Palestinians, urban Palestinians, professionals, lawyers, educators, doctors, people in the media – people who were interested in the history, the politics, the culture, the literary world,” Halaby told Al Jazeera.
“I’ve always been interested in social history, and culture, lineage and genealogy, and I grew up fortunate to have a mother who enjoyed sharing that sort of story and history with me.”
Throughout the tours of Katamon and Baka, viewers meet individuals returning to their family homes for the first time since 1948, hear stories of notable residents such as educator Khalil Sakakini, and see the neighbourhood’s originally Arab homes, now occupied by Jewish Israelis.
The documentary will keep expanding as more homes are mapped, and Naaman hopes they can “extend it to the rest of Jerusalem … It’s a place that we can start collecting all that information for generations to come,” Halaby said. “It’s going to be a living, breathing document.”
Below, four contributors to Jerusalem, We Are Here share their experiences.
|Anwar Ben Badis, Mona Halaby and Dorit Naaman begin the tour of Katamon at the Regent Cinema. [Dorit Naaman/Alex Wittholz/Al Jazeera]|
Teddy Theodorie and his sister Nadia grew up between homes in Talbiyeh and Katamon before their family was expelled from West Jerusalem in 1948. Now, both in their 80s, the siblings live in Bethlehem and contributed stories from their youth to Jerusalem, We Are Here.
Teddy: I was born in Jerusalem, and I grew up in Jerusalem. I was a teenager in 1948, and we lived through many things, but as kids, we never felt it. We were engaged in schools and activities, and we had the YMCA. All my knowledge of Palestine, from north to south, goes back to the YMCA.
People used to mingle a lot in Katamon and Talbiyeh – wherever you went, you would see people you knew. There were no divisions, and the people were very sociable. But people started to leave after the Semiramis hotel was blown up in Katamon by the Israelis in January 1948.
Our family stayed in Katamon until May 12, 1948.
Nadia: It was a full, fun childhood in Talbiyeh and Katamon, but in 1948 it became very tense. When we left, we were told it was just for two weeks, and our family chose to come to Bethlehem because it is very near to Jerusalem and everyone was trying to move to the Old City.
Still, we are not allowed to go back to our home. But it’s necessary to preserve the heritage. People should know that there were Palestinians there.
|Teddy looks at photographs of his 1938-1939 class in the German Colony, which was near his home neighbourhoods of Talbiyeh and Katamon. [Mary Pelletier/Al Jazeera]|
Michel Moushabeck is a Palestinian writer, publisher and musician who lives in the United States. He was born in Beirut shortly after his mother and father’s families were expelled from Katamon in 1948, and he was never able to visit his family’s home in West Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, We Are Here, Moushabeck visits Jerusalem virtually, on a Skype tour through the old city, where his grandfather was the Mukhtar of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
As I virtually walked through the streets of the old city and revisited the places I frequented as a child nearly 50 years ago, I really experienced an emotional journey like no other. And it was a special treat for me to be escorted to our family’s home. I did not live in Katamon at all. I only ever saw our house in Katamon in old photographs from my parents.
The way my father used to talk about Katamon, I got the sense that it was a very special community, and a community of intellectuals. I knew that the neighbourhood was a special place in Palestinian history because it had all of these really highly educated people in one spot.
I could imagine the literary salons that would take place, the political discussions, the storytellers and historians and poets gathering together. Projects like Dorit’s are trying to recreate this history.
The most important part is really showing the people who live there now that those houses they are occupying had been lived in by Palestinians, had been built by Palestinians, and had an amazing history before them.
|Anwar stands in front of his mother’s home in Baka, which she was forced to leave in 1948. The house is now occupied by Jewish Americans [Mary Pelletier/Al Jazeera]|
Anwar Ben Badis is a linguist, translator and Arabic teacher who lives in Jerusalem. His mother’s family was expelled from Baka in 1948, and today Ben Badis is one of the few Palestinians who has returned to live in the neighbourhood.
Inspired by his mother’s stories and extensive research into the area’s Palestinian history, Ben Badis leads tours through Baka and Katamon, and acted as a guide for Jerusalem, We Are Here.
“In 1994, I came back to Jerusalem as a student and now I live in Baka – not in my mother’s house, but it was important for me to be very close to her house, to keep her stories and memories alive.”
“Before 1948, we didn’t have borders between neighbourhoods, and it was a place where people felt they were a part of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was part of them. Many of the Jerusalemite families from here now live in East Jerusalem, and for years they didn’t want to share anything – it’s not easy for them.”
“So for me, this project takes me back to renew my memory. It’s very difficult, but I don’t feel like a stranger in Baka. I am probably the only Palestinian who will put my flag on my balcony. I feel it is important – this is my country, this is my neighbourhood, this is my land.”
Jerusalem, We Are Here will next be presented at the Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Centre in Washington DC on April 13.
It will be streamed live at: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/events/upcoming/jerusalem-interactive-documentary
The full documentary is available at http://www.jerusalemwearehere.com, with plans to present it in Jerusalem this summer.
Source: Al Jazeera
Palestine pre-1948, before Zionism/Israel
The video contains pictures of different Palestinian cities during the 1920’s and 1930’s, before the creation of the state of israel by the zionists in 1948.
. . . Text by Rita Rubin, Forward Magazine
An Israeli geneticist challenges the “Zionist” hypothesis that all Jews belong to one race and are intimately related, thus giving them a common ancestor in the Holy Land and a Biblical claim to Palestine.
Scientists usually don’t call each other “liars” and “frauds.”
But that’s how Johns Hopkins University post-doctoral researcher Eran Elhaik describes a group of widely respected geneticists, including Harry Ostrer, professor of pathology and genetics at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of the 2012 book “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People.”
For years now, the findings of Ostrer and several other scientists have stood virtually unchallenged on the genetics of Jews and the story they tell of the common Middle East origins shared by many Jewish populations worldwide. Jews — and Ashkenazim in particular — are indeed one people, Ostrer’s research finds.
It’s a theory that more or less affirms the understanding that many Jews themselves hold of who they are in the world: a people who, though scattered, share an ethnic-racial bond rooted in their common ancestral descent from the indigenous Jews of ancient Judea or Palestine, as the Romans called it after they conquered the Jewish homeland.
But now, Elhaik, an Israeli molecular geneticist, has published research that he says debunks this claim. And that has set off a predictable clash.
“He’s just wrong,” said Marcus Feldman of Stanford University, a leading researcher in Jewish genetics, referring to Elhaik.
The sometimes strong emotions generated by this scientific dispute stem from a politically loaded question that scientists and others have pondered for decades: Where in the world did Ashkenazi Jews come from?
The debate touches upon such sensitive issues as whether the Jewish people is a race or a religion, and whether Jews or Palestinians are descended from the original inhabitants of what is now the State of Israel.
Ostrer’s theory is sometimes marshaled to lend the authority of science to the Zionist narrative, which views the migration of modern-day Jews to what is now Israel, and their rule over that land, as a simple act of repossession by the descendants of the land’s original residents. Ostrer declined to be interviewed for this story. But in his writings, Ostrer points out the dangers of such reductionism; some of the same genetic markers common among Jews, he finds, can be found in Palestinians, as well.
By using sophisticated molecular tools, Feldman, Ostrer and most other scientists in the field have found that Jews are genetically homogeneous. No matter where they live, these scientists say, Jews are genetically more similar to each other than to their non-Jewish neighbors, and they have a shared Middle Eastern ancestry.
The geneticists’ research backs up what is known as the Rhineland Hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, Ashkenazi Jews descended from Jews who fled Palestine after the Muslim conquest in the seventh century and settled in Southern Europe. In the late Middle Ages they moved into eastern Europe from Germany, or the Rhineland.
“Nonsense,” said Elhaik, a 33-year-old Israeli Jew from Beersheba who earned a doctorate in molecular evolution from the University of Houston. The son of an Italian man and Iranian woman who met in Israel, Elhaik, a dark-haired, compact man, sat down recently for an interview in his bare, narrow cubicle of an office at Hopkins, where he’s worked for four years.
In “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses,” published in December in the online journal Genome Biology and Evolution, Elhaik says he has proved that Ashkenazi Jews’ roots lie in the Caucasus — a region at the border of Europe and Asia that lies between the Black and Caspian seas — not in the Middle East. They are descendants, he argues, of the Khazars, a Turkic people who lived in one of the largest medieval states in Eurasia and then migrated to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. Ashkenazi genes, Elhaik added, are far more heterogeneous than Ostrer and other proponents of the Rhineland Hypothesis believe. Elhaik did find a Middle Eastern genetic marker in DNA from Jews, but, he says, it could be from Iran, not ancient Judea.
Elhaik writes that the Khazars converted to Judaism in the eighth century, although many historians believe that only royalty and some members of the aristocracy converted. But widespread conversion by the Khazars is the only way to explain the ballooning of the European Jewish population to 8 million at the beginning of the 20th century from its tiny base in the Middle Ages, Elhaik says.
Elhaik bases his conclusion on an analysis of genetic data published by a team of researchers led by Doron Behar, a population geneticist and senior physician at Israel’s Rambam Medical Center, in Haifa. Using the same data, Behar’s team published in 2010 a paper concluding that most contemporary Jews around the world and some non-Jewish populations from the Levant, or Eastern Mediterranean, are closely related.
Elhaik used some of the same statistical tests as Behar and others, but he chose different comparisons. Elhaik compared “genetic signatures” found in Jewish populations with those of modern-day Armenians and Georgians, which he uses as a stand-in for the long-extinct Khazarians because they live in the same area as the medieval state.
“It’s an unrealistic premise,” said University of Arizona geneticist Michael Hammer, one of Behar’s co-authors, of Elhaik’s paper. Hammer notes that Armenians have Middle Eastern roots, which, he says, is why they appeared to be genetically related to Ashkenazi Jews in Elhaik’s study.
Hammer, who also co-wrote the first paper that showed modern-day Kohanim are descended from a single male ancestor, calls Elhaik and other Khazarian Hypothesis proponents “outlier folks… who have a minority view that’s not supported scientifically. I think the arguments they make are pretty weak and stretching what we know.”
Feldman, director of Stanford’s Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies, echoes Hammer. “If you take all of the careful genetic population analysis that has been done over the last 15 years… there’s no doubt about the common Middle Eastern origin,” he said. He added that Elhaik’s paper “is sort of a one-off.”
Elhaik’s statistical analysis would not pass muster with most contemporary scholars, Feldman said: “He appears to be applying the statistics in a way that gives him different results from what everybody else has obtained from essentially similar data.”
Elhaik, who doesn’t believe that Moses, Aaron or the 12 Tribes of Israel ever existed, shrugs off such criticism.
“That’s a circular argument,” he said of the notion that Jews’ and Armenians’ genetic similarities stem from common ancestors in the Middle East and not from Khazaria, the area where the Armenians live. If you believe that, he says, then other non-Jewish populations, such as Georgian, that are genetically similar to Armenians should be considered genetically related to Jews, too, “and so on and so forth.”
Dan Graur, Elhaik’s doctoral supervisor at U.H. and a member of the editorial board of the journal that published his paper, calls his former student “very ambitious, very independent. That’s what I like.” Graur, a Romanian-born Jew who served on the faculty of Tel Aviv University for 22 years before moving 10 years ago to the Houston school, said Elhaik “writes more provocatively than may be needed, but it’s his style.” Graur calls Elhaik’s conclusion that Ashkenazi Jews originated to the east of Germany “a very honest estimate.”
In a news article that accompanied Elhaik’s journal paper, Shlomo Sand, history professor at Tel Aviv University and author of the controversial 2009 book “The Invention of the Jewish People,” said the study vindicated his long-held ideas.
”It’s so obvious for me,” Sand told the journal. “Some people, historians and even scientists, turn a blind eye to the truth. Once, to say Jews were a race was anti-Semitic, now to say they’re not a race is anti-Semitic. It’s crazy how history plays with us.”
The paper has received little coverage in mainstream American media, but it has attracted the attention of anti-Zionists and “anti-Semitic white supremacists,” Elhaik said.
Interestingly, while anti-Zionist bloggers have applauded Elhaik’s work, saying it proves that contemporary Jews have no legitimate claim to Israel, some white supremacists have attacked it.
David Duke, for example, is disturbed by the assertion that Jews are not a race. “The disruptive and conflict-ridden behavior which has marked out Jewish Supremacist activities through the millennia strongly suggests that Jews have remained more or less genetically uniform and have… developed a group evolutionary survival strategy based on a common biological unity — something which strongly militates against the Khazar theory,” wrote the former Ku Klux Klansman and former Louisiana state assemblyman on his blog in February.
“I’m not communicating with them,” Elhaik said of the white supremacists.
He says it also bothers him, a veteran of seven years in the Israeli army, that anti-Zionists have capitalized on his research “and they’re not going to be proven wrong anytime soon.”
But proponents of the Rhineland Hypothesis also have a political agenda, he said, claiming they “were motivated to justify the Zionist narrative.”
To illustrate his point, Elhaik swivels his chair around to face his computer and calls up a 2010 email exchange with Ostrer.
“It was a great pleasure reading your group’s recent paper, ‘Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era,’ that illuminate[s] the history of our people,” Elhaik wrote to Ostrer. “Is it possible to see the data used for the study?”
Ostrer replied that the data are not publicly available. “It is possible to collaborate with the team by writing a brief proposal that outlines what you plan to do,” he wrote. “Criteria for reviewing include novelty and strength of the proposal, non-overlap with current or planned activities, and non-defamatory nature toward the Jewish people.”
That last requirement, Elhaik argues, reveals the bias of Ostrer and his collaborators.
Allowing scientists access to data only if their research will not defame Jews is “peculiar,” said Catherine DeAngelis, who edited the Journal of the American Medical Association for a decade. “What he does is set himself up for criticism: Wait a minute. What’s this guy trying to hide?”
Despite what his critics claim, Elhaik says, he was not out to prove that contemporary Jews have no connection to the Jewish people of the Bible. His primary research focus is the genetics of mental illness, which, he explains, led him to question the assumption that Ashkenazi Jews are a useful population to study because they’re so homogeneous.
Elhaik says he first read about the Khazarian Hypothesis a decade ago in a 1976 book by the late Hungarian-British author Arthur Koestler, “The Thirteenth Tribe,” written before scientists had the tools to compare genomes.
Koestler, who was Jewish by birth, said his aim in writing the book was to eliminate the racist underpinnings of anti-Semitism in Europe. “Should this theory be confirmed, the term ‘anti-Semitism’ would become void of meaning,” the book jacket reads. Although Koestler’s book was generally well reviewed, some skeptics questioned the author’s grasp of the history of Khazaria.
Graur is not surprised that Elhaik has stood up against the “clique” of scientists who believe that Jews are genetically homogeneous. “He enjoys being combative,” Graur said. “That’s what science is.”